A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
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Wearables, fitness and activity tracking for seniors -- nowhere in mHealth
Wearables – they’re all the rage now. A $1.5 billion market by 2014, or maybe $6 billion by 2016. That number includes products that are not yet on the market like Google Glass which is due out late 2013 or early 2014. Pogue describes a prototype which has packed “memory, a processor, a camera, speaker and microphone, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi antennas, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass and a battery, all inside the earpiece.” Good luck to us unlucky enough to be in a car while you are enjoying this power. Today's texting distractions have drivers swiveling all over the highways, walkers slamming into telephone poles and joggers tripping over tree roots.
Find a practical use with older adults. Wearable fitness devices, like Fitbit and Nike+ are here today, maybe 80+ million of these $60 - $100 devices out there, they are part of this $1.5 billion market. We know that exercise boosts health of older adults -- so says the NIH and every other health site. So no one argues about that. But none of those sites talk about the use of motivating technologies like these and how they can help get folks up and out, in competition with themselves and with others. Here is where I see a market for boomers and seniors – and so far, there are no attempts to capitalize on these possibilities that I can detect by resellers, apps vendors, or those already in the senior wellness space.
Since hinting doesn’t seem to be helping so let’s spell it out – and provide a link to the developer forum where research initiatives are posted, along with new apps for these devices that are cheaper than smart phones:
- Senior housing. Give one away upon move-in to to still-mobile Independent Living residents. With a charging dock in Mrs. Smith’s room charging for 1-2 hours and a computer in a wellness nurse or physical therapy office, that's enough. If Mrs. Smith stopped in, walking data could be uploaded to the computer – enabling reports on Mrs. Smith’s walking pattern: Slower? Faster? How many hours per day is Mrs. Smith motionless, slumped in her chair? Does she enjoy the rainbow colors it flashes when she is up and about? The newest version uploads to an iPhone, and even if the organization doesn’t want any part of this process, family members could bring in a phone and see how Mom is doing or sleeping.
- Senior centers and activities in 55+ communities. Folks arrive for the morning activities and lunch – they are wearing their new Fitbits, clipped to a watch or waistband. They are eager to find out how they’re doing in the competition for ‘Most Steps of the Month” – and after their step totals are recorded, they check a whiteboard to see how they’re doing.
- Rehab after knee or hip surgery. Rehab centers begin to provide a Fitbit to new admissions who are getting physical therapy to make their knees or hips more functional before their return home. Both the therapy session (typically brief) and the Fitbit patterns (the rest of the day!) are viewed together to form a progress report and encouragement. Rehab programs inside senior housing communities also see the potential, hand them out and track.
Sadly, mHealth, co-opted by Health IT, will miss the consumer activity tracker trend. If I study the agenda for the upcoming mHealth Summit, it is obvious that when HIMSS acquired the event, it now has the Health IT spin (care delivery technology, systems and information for the medical community) that HIMSS created and owns. While the wearable market may be $1.5 billion by 2014, health informatics should already be a $6 billion market and EMR -- a $6 billion market by 2015. Sweeping them all into one big Health IT bucket – that's a lot of money. That's so good for traditional healthcare tech vendors, appealing one-stop shopping for health providers like hospitals and medical practices, and of course, it is an outstanding win for consultants who are already experts in the world of McKesson, Cerner, Epic, Allscripts, etc. So I predict (this one is easy) that these folk will be no more interested in applications of low-priced activity trackers than they are interested in seniors. Which is to say, unless the senior is a patient in a healthcare, EMR-deploying system, their activity on the way into or out of the building is outside the diagnostic vision of their (XYZ)scope.